Testifying Before Kings (Acts 25)

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Acts 25

Rev. Erik Veerman


Testifying Before Kings

Here in the first century, during when these events were happening, the Roman empire provided certain cover for Christianity. Because of Rome, persecution against Christianity was limited. However, in Acts 25 here, we’re only about 10 years away from when Rome utterly destroyed Jerusalem. That happened in 70 AD. The Roman empire’s main target were the Jews but they saw Christianity as a subset. It was terrible. Jesus prophesied about the atrocities. Josephus, the historian, wrote of the destruction and death.

And from that point a severe persecution arose against the church for 250 years – especially under Nero and Diocletian. But then something happened. The Edict of Milan in 313 ended persecution against Christianity. Over the following years Christianity turned from being the enemy of the state to being intermixed with the state.

And since that time, since the fourth century in Rome, Christianity has struggled with its relationship to the civil authority… We call the relationship by many names: the church and state, religion and government, the sacred and secular.

Constantine as the new emperor took Christianity and turned it into the religion of the state. And I want you to think abut this: For 1200 years, no one could pry Christianity away from the civil authorities.

Over that time, Christianity was corrupted. The drive for power and money turned religious leaders into agents of the empire. In the name of Christ, wars were fought, people were subjugated, money was stolen. Think of the crusades of the 11th to 13th centuries. Or the Spanish inquisition which started in the 1400s. Over the centuries much was done in the name of God.

And faithful remnant were persecuted. Think of that! You had the Holy Roman Empire, in the name of Christianity persecuting true Christians. When people started to read the Bible for themselves and realize what it taught about faith and God’s kingdom, they were persecuted, many were martyred.

It wasn’t until the protestant Reformation in the 16th century that things started to change. The corruption of civil magistrate and the perversion of Christianity were finally exposed. You see, the Gospel had been lost. That’s why the Reformation is so historically important. God used it to recover the Gospel and to bring clarity about the role of the church in the world.

I bring all this up for 2 reasons:

1.) First, as you know, today happens to be Reformation Day,

2.) but also, second, this chapter in Acts emphasizes Rome – it emphasizes the civil authority, the king of the region, Agrippa, and then also Caesar. Caesar was the title of the Roman emperor. In fact, there are 8 references in here to Caesar – 6 direct and 2 indirect.

Because of this emphasis, we should be asking ourselves a couple of consequential questions: what should our relationship, as individual Christians, be to the government? And how should the church and state relate?

That’s very relevant today. Isn’t it? Today we have the range of views. Some say Christianity should have no influence on the laws of the land. Others promote a sort of nationalism that integrates the church and state. Of course, we could spend hours thinking through this. I merely want you to have those questions in mind as we navigate the apostle Paul’s continuing trial.

After we examine Acts 25, we’ll come back to the questions. And we’ll examine some principles for us as individual Christians and as a church in our relationship to the civil government.

You may have noticed, this whole chapter, Acts 25, has some similar elements to the previous situations and trials that Paul faced.

1.) The Jews brought false charges.

2.) Paul defended himself clearly.

3.) There was no proof. Therefore the Roman authorities did not find any reason to convict him.

4.) The Jews plotted to kill Paul, same as in chapter 23. And just like before, they tried to get the Romans to bring Paul in the open where they would ambush and kill him.

5.) And, as you would guess, Paul spoke about Jesus and the resurrection. That’s highlighted in verse 19.

Lots of parallels, but the differences here include the specific Roman authorities and the emphasis on Caesar.

To give you some reminders and background, the last chapter involved Felix. Remember him, the corrupt governor? Felix walked away from the conviction he felt in his heart when Paul shared about righteousness and judgement. Well, Felix’s ongoing corruption and the resulting turmoil in the region led to his ousting. In his place came Porcius Festus. He came directly from Italy. Festus was a trusted leader to take over for Felix.

Also in the region, king Herod Agrippa II was slowly given more territory to control. This Herod was the great grandson of Herod the Great. His two sisters were Druscilla (remember her, Felix’s wife), and also Bernice, who we also meet in this chapter. Agrippa and Bernice’s relationship was more than just siblings, but that’s a whole other story.

Herod Agrippa II was only 17 when his father died, but he was too young to take over the kingship of the whole region. But slowly Rome gave him more territory. Agrippa and Bernice had a Jewish heritage. That’s why Festus sought his counsel later in the chapter.

So that’s the background. Paul was still in prison from last chapter. It had been two years. Felix had been wasting time not desiring to deal with Paul. Mind you, Paul had freedoms. He likely continued to disciple and to correspond with the various churches that he planted. Perhaps Paul helped coordinate the Gospel going to other regions. Most scholars think the books of Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians were written when Paul was in prison after he got to Rome. There’s some debate about that, though. The themes in Ephesians, for example, directly relate to Paul’s time in Jerusalem. Especially chapter 2 – that God has broken down the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile.

My point in bring that up is that God was still using Paul. Everything that had been happening to him, God was still sovereign.

So, Festus had arrived. And he wasted no time in trying to navigate the politics of Jerusalem and of Paul. One of the first things he did was go to Jerusalem. Of course, he did! Jerusalem was where all the problems in the region originated. He needed to meet the leaders and get a handle on the situation. So he met with the chief priests – and what did they do? They laid out their case against Paul. That’s when they requested Paul be brought to Jerusalem. It was a trap, of course. Festus likely knew the history, so he did not agree to their request.

Festus then travelled back to Caesarea. It was 8-10 days later. The Jews came down and Festus called for Paul for a new trial. But it was the same old same old. The charges were brought and Paul’s defense was the same. In verse 8 he argued he didn’t commit an offense “against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple,” and this time he adds, “nor against Caesar.”

Even though Festus was a fair governor, he still wanted to appease the Jews. Over the last few years there had been revolts, a Jewish war, radical assassins. So Festus asked Paul if he would be willing to be tried in Jerusalem. Festus hoped, of course, that Paul would agree. But even if not, by merely asking the question Festus showed some sympathy to the Jews. He wanted peace in the region.

Of course, peace continues to be elusive and it’s been 2000 years now.

I’ve been to Jerusalem a couple of times. As you walk around the old city, the city walls are riddled with bullet marks. Everywhere there are groups of Israeli military. These aren’t 20-30 year old men. No, both males and females… older teenagers. In Israel, when you turn 18, you are required to serve for 2-3 years in the military because of the threats.

The day after we drove by the Gaza strip, rockets were launched into Israel. Also, the checkpoints out of the West Bank were intense. At the airport, I was somehow tagged as a threat. Security searched every single thing in my suitcase. They pulled it all out and laid it on the table. They had me turn on every device to make sure it was real. That’s how intense it still is.

Paul knew what would likely happen to him in Jerusalem – the Jews would try to kill him. Yes, Festus would have acquitted him. Freed him. In the next chapter, 26, Agrippa even said Paul would have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar. But after being set free, the Jews would have tried in whatever way possible to kill Paul.

You see, in Paul’s mind, there was one choice. As a Roman citizen, he could appeal to the emperor - to Caesar. By doing so, he would avoid Jerusalem. So that’s what he did. Paul appealed to Caesar.

To be sure, Paul was not afraid to die! He even said so in verse 11. No, he didn’t appeal to Caesar because he was scrambling to avoid confrontation or death. No, Paul had his destination in mind. Rome! Remember, Jesus had appeared to Paul and had confirmed to him that he would testify in Rome. Appealing to Caesar was his ticket west. Did you notice, Festus emphasized Paul’s trip to Rome. He said, “To Caesar you appealed and to Caesar you shall go.” Paul was like “I’m going to Rome, baby!”

Ok, let’s step back for a minute and look at the overall chapter. Look down at your Bibles and the chapter as a whole. The first 12 verses begin with Festus consulting with the Jews and then Festus holding a new trial for Paul. Next, in verses 13-22, a similar thing. This time Festus began by consulting with king Agrippa and Bernice. Festus told them what had happened in the first trial and he sought their advice. Then starting in verse 23 a new trial began. This time with King Agrippa. This is the last trial recorded in Acts. It’s actually the longest recorded trial. It runs from verse 23 all the way through chapter 26. We’ll be considering it in 3 parts.

Really this morning, I want you to notice the ceremony and purpose of this trial. In fact, I’m not sure you can call it a trial. Rather it’s more of an inquiry. Festus stated his purpose. He needed to write a formal letter to Rome as to why Paul was being sent. Caesar is not mentioned by his title here, but he’s still emphasized… “emperor,” verse 25 and “my lord” verse 26.

These last few verses are filled with Roman pomp and circumstance. This was the Roman way with all its ceremony and formality. Agrippa and Bernice entered the great hall. The military tribunes and prominent men of Caesarea took their place. Festus took charge of the hearing. He acknowledged the king twice in his speech. Do you sense the Roman pride? They were in charge. Not the Jews, not Paul. No, Rome was in charge. To them Rome was the greatest kingdom that ever was and as far as they thought, ever would be.

And why were they all there? What caused this grandiose gathering with kings and governors and military tribunes? Here was one man. Small in stature. Brought in from the prison. Bound in chains as the next chapter tells us. Scars over his body. What a contrast. Paul stood at the center of it all, surrounded by all the Roman regalia.

When Paul was converted back in chapter 9, the Lord spoke to Ananias - the Ananias who Jesus sent Paul to find. The Lord said to Ananias “[Paul] is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.” So here we have another part of Lord’s prophecy fulfilled. Paul was standing before kings. Presumably he’ll have an audience with Caesar as well. But it’s not even Paul who was at the center of the controversy. No, it’s the Gospel that has caused all the turmoil. It’s the name of Jesus and salvation in him that has caused all of this.

Back in chapter 17, Paul was in Thessalonica. Do you remember what happened? A mob of Jews formed. And what was their accusation? They were shouting “These men have turned the world upside down… they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” You see, the Gospel was changing the world. It wasn’t turning the world upside down, no it was turning the world right side up. And it was going to the ends of the earth. Lives and communities were being changed. But not in a way that all the earthly nations went about it. Not through military might like the Romans. Not through power and pomp like the Romans. No, a new message and a new kind of kingdom was going forth with a new king – a king reigning in heaven. Jesus.

Let’s tie this all back into the overall theme of Acts. And then circle back to you and me.

We’re coming up on the last 3 chapters of Acts. But do you remember where it all started? The resurrected Jesus commissioned his disciples to go to the ends of the earth, then he ascended. After Jesus ascended, he poured out his Holy Spirit, He gave his Spirit to us. Jesus ascension and the giving of the Holy Spirit ushered in a new Kingdom. Do you remember that emphasis back in the opening chapters of Acts?

• Christ is now reigning in heaven. Through the work of his Spirit, he’s building his church, he’s calling people to him. He’s ruling and reigning and governing.

• Jesus is the king of a kingdom that includes his church, it includes the heavens above, it includes angels, it includes all the people who are or will be called by his name.

• Do you see, it’s a wholly different kingdom. Its purposes are spiritual and eternal. Its message is hope and peace and salvation. Its means are words and deeds that point to Christ. Its conquest is hearts and minds.

As Paul was standing before these agents of the Roman kingdom, yes, Rome was on his mind. But the reason he wanted to go to Rome, the reason he appealed to Caesar was to further the kingdom of God in Rome.

Do you see the difference between the kingdoms? The kingdom of God with Christ as King over it all including the church, and the earthly kingdoms and nations of this world like Rome with Caesar as king.

Yes, the kingdoms of this world have their place and purpose. Yes, God has ordained them and we are citizens of them. The good nations provide protection and godly justice. But if you are a believer in Christ, you are also citizens of a wholly different kingdom. Philippians 3:20, “…our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” It’s a kingdom that will not end. A kingdom where our fellow citizens are from all over the world. One which you will be part of for eternity.

• Rome would eventually pass away.

• Festus died only two or three years after this event.

• All the earthly kings and kingdoms will come to an end.

• But the kingdom of God will not come to an end. Christ is its king. He will reign and rule forever.

The priorities of God’s kingdom need to be first and foremost in your life. That includes Jesus’s Gospel mission to the ends of the earth. God’s kingdom also includes his church – so being a part of a church is crucial for worship, for discipleship, for caring for one another, and for being a light of the Gospel to the community. Also, part of the responsibilities we have includes knowing God and growing in holiness. All those are the things that should be first and foremost in your life.

That doesn’t mean that we should forsake the earthly nation where we live. No, not at all, but what it does mean is that there is a distinction and separation between the two. When we intermix the sphere and responsibility of each, we misunderstand God’s call for each. It happened for centuries in Rome when the sword was mixed with the cross. It led, as I mentioned earlier, to corruption and abuse and a perversion of the Gospel.

When we look to the power and resources of earthly nations to accomplish God’s Gospel mission, then we’ve misunderstood. To be sure, God uses earthly nations to accomplish his purposes. We’ve seen him use Rome… again, as cover for the Gospel in Acts. But it’s not our responsibility to determine how and when.

Another thing we’ve also seen in in Acts is that Christians make good earthly citizens. We’re to obey the governing authorities. We read that in Romans 13 earlier in our service. Of course, to the extent that they don’t violate God’s law. Paul followed Roman law. He was innocent of the charges. He did not stir up any riots against the state. Yes, he preached the resurrected Christ as king, but a kingdom not of this world.

We are to live faithfully where God has placed us, we pay our taxes, we can serve faithfully in the military, work for the government. Since we live in a representative democracy, we can participate in politics. But when politics drives our Christian beliefs and not the other way around, then we’ve stepped over the line. Or when we put our hope in elections or politics or the government, then we’ve also crossed the line.

You understand I’m making a distinction between the organized church and the individual Christian. Some have called it the gathered and scattered church. The gathered church is the organized church. Its responsibilities include what we already discussed – worship, discipleship, fellowship, and Gospel mission. That’s also all through Acts. The individual Christian is part of the organized church, first and foremost, but also we’re scattered about in the sense that we have spheres of influence and responsibility outside of the church. Like the things I mentioned: work and community, maybe serving in a local or national government agency, loving your neighbors, participating in politics, and more.

To be sure, the gathered church has a responsibility to speak out against abuses and stand for Biblical truth and morality. It’s why we as a church support ministries that love and care for moms in crisis – that stand for the life of the unborn. It’s why we’re having an upcoming Sunday school class on Biblical sexuality and a Biblical understanding of racial reconciliation. Yes, the organized church can and should speak into the issues of the day and seek to influence the state, but it’s not the civil government and it needs to stay focused on the Gospel – on the eternal hope and salvation in Christ, on calling people to faith in him, and on making disciples.

In closing, we have a king, an eternal king, who is like none other. He’s far above the world’s emperors and kings and presidents. He is Christ Jesus. He is sitting in heaven next to God the Father, he’s interceding for us, providing for us, ministering to us, he’s reigning over his kingdom and his church. He is glorious, resplendent in wonder and awe. He’s eternal in the heavens, worthy alone of our full allegiance, worthy alone of worship and praise. And he has come near to us, he understands our weakness and temptation. He’s a king who loves us. He did the most amazing thing for us on the cross. And in his all knowing understanding, and presence, and love, he has called us his and given us his grace and salvation.

If you are his, through faith and repentance, then you are a son or daughter of the King of kings and Lord of lord. If you are not his, he can be your king, you can belong to him. He calls you to submit to his righteous and gracious rule. To turn from your sin and unbelief and trust in him alone.

Put your hope in him. In the words of the Psalmist. Psalm 20 “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand…”

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